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What does an Orthopedist do?

Nicole Madison
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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An orthopedist is a doctor who specializes in treating individuals who have medical conditions that involve the bones, joints, nerves, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Also known as an orthopedic surgeon, a person in this field typically works to diagnose and care for patients who have suffered such things as broken bones and torn ligaments and tendons. Essentially, his job is treating disorders and conditions of the parts of the body that allow movement. An individual in this field may choose to focus on setting bones, opt to correct deformities, or treat individuals who have suffered some type of trauma.

While doctors who work in orthopedics may be best known for helping people with broken bones and treating individuals who need joints replaced or repaired, especially in the knee and hip area, these doctors are trained to do a lot more. Doctors in this field also provide treatment to straighten patients' spines and use prosthetics in treating those who have lost limbs. Some orthopedists work with patients who have deformed hands or feet, and some decide to focus only on injures that stem from participation in sports. There are some who specialize in treating disabled and injured children while others may focus on treating tumors, infections, and degenerative diseases.

An orthopedist typically diagnoses patients and uses both medical and surgical techniques to treat them. He may work closely with other doctors who refer patients to him, reviewing the referred patients’ records and sharing treatment options with the referring physician. A person in this field may also examine patients and order a range of tests, such as x-rays and other types of imaging procedures. He may coordinate a patient’s post-surgery care as well, meeting with his patients to monitor their recovery. An orthopedist may maintain a private office or work in a hospital, surgical center, or sports-medicine clinic; a person in this field may even opt to become a college professor or devote his career to research rather than the treatment of patients.

A person who decides to become an orthopedist usually has many years of preparation ahead of him. After completing high school, a person who wants to become an orthopedist usually goes on to attend college for four years before completing four years of medical school training. Following medical school, an orthopedist typically completes residency training that lasts for five years. When an orthopedist decides to pursue a specialty, training can last even longer. An aspiring orthopedist may spend an additional year on specialty training.

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Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a Practical Adult Insights writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By manykitties2 — On Sep 05, 2011

My mother has been seeing an orthopedist about her osteoarthritis for a few years now. What basically happens is that there is a lot of wear and tear on the cartilage surface and not enough repair happening due to a disease.

For my mother she sees her orthopedist in order to deal with the pain and for articular cartilage repair treatment. While this treatment isn't perfect it has been delaying her need for a knee replacement, which I can imagine is going to be pretty painful. This technique is fairly new and has been proven to work well. You'll need a really good orthopedic surgeon though if you want to try it out.

By lonelygod — On Sep 05, 2011

I had to see an orthopedist at a sports-medicine clinic after I tore a tendon in my leg. It was very painful and while my doctor was able to give me enough medicine that it dulled the pain, I had to see the orthopedist to actually get my leg fixed up.

I ended up having surgery on my leg and it took quite awhile to recover. I was on crutches for close to 2 months and the physical therapy was pretty intense. My orthopedist told me that if I didn't practice using my leg after it healed I would have trouble walking. I guess when you are off a foot for so long it takes time to get back into the groove of things.

By Esther11 — On Sep 04, 2011

@sweetPeas - I think you're right about most orthopedists having specialties. In addition to the specialties you mentioned, there are orthopedic specialists who work mostly on one part of the body.

There are hand orthopedist surgeons. They fix joints in your hand, wrist joint and bone problems, and ankle injuries.

Another specialty is a knee orthopedic doctor. He surgically replaces knees, treats ligament injuries, and dislocations.

Spine orthopedists do a lot of different procedures on parts of the spine.

By sweetPeas — On Sep 03, 2011

I'm guessing that most doctors who want to be orthopedists probably train for a specialty. There are so many new surgical techniques for repairing bones and joints. And there is the whole new branch of sports medicine. It would be very difficult to be proficient in treating all orthopedic areas.

I have problems with my feet, so I go to a podiatrist, who treats only feet. They may do surgery on bunions and bone spurs, take casts of your feet for orthodics and prescribe conservative treatment.

I like to go to specialists whenever I can.

By andee — On Sep 03, 2011

When my nephew was in high school he was very active in football. During one game, he suffered from a knee injury and had to see an orthopedist physician as part of his care.

This made such an impact on him, that he decided he wanted to go to med school and become an orthopedist surgeon.

After his knee injury he didn't go out for football again, but he continued on with his medical plans.

Today he is in medical school and has a few more years to go before he realizes his dream. It is hard to say if he would have pursued this career if he hadn't been injured, but I know he will make a very good doctor.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a Practical Adult Insights writer, where she focuses on topics...
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